Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shushing down the Fiscal Slope - PNN - 12/16/12

PNN - 12/16/12

07:00 - 07:10 - RWS
07:10 - Luis Cuevas - Co-host
07:15 - 07:30 - Jay Alexander
07:31 - 07:45 - Keith McHenry
07:45 - 08:00 - Sandy Leon
07:55 - 08:25 - Denis Campbell


1. Jiji: Cover-up of true radiation levels Fukushima residents were exposed to? WHO accused of underestimating disaster’s impact on human health
A German doctor and member of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicians’ group has criticized a World Health Organization report on the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe for underestimating its impact on human health. [...]
[Alex Rosen] noted that the WHO’s estimate on the amount of radioactive fallout emitted from the plant’s destroyed reactors was significantly lower than projections provided by research institutes in many other countries.
The WHO report also failed to take into account the radiation exposure of people living within 20 km of the No. 1 plant and who were evacuated in the first few days of the calamity, after the area was designated a no-go zone, Rosen said [...]
The most flawed aspect of the WHO report is “its apparent lack of neutrality,” he said.
Rosen further asserted that the report reflects an effort to downplay the effects of the disaster, as it was compiled chiefly by IAEA staff and members of nuclear regulatory bodies that were closely colluding with Japan’s nuclear power industry.
“It is unclear why a report written mainly by the IAEA and collaborating nuclear institutions would need to be published in the name of the WHO, if not to provide an unsuspicious cover” for the true radiation levels Fukushima residents were exposed to, Rosen argued. [...]

2. Salt Dome Update
Top Expert: Fears Napoleonville salt dome to continue to break up below giant sinkhole; “An underground Mt. Everest” — Over 50 caverns inside, some with explosive gas
[...] The assessment by Jeffrey Nunn, [LSU's] Ernest and Alice Neal professor of geology and geophysics and Pereboom professor of science, was a step beyond what other officials and scientists working on the sinkhole response have presented in public meetings [...] during a luncheon talk at Mike Anderson’s restaurant to the Baton Rouge Geological Society. [...]

LSU Professor Jeffrey Nunn (Source: Baton Rouge Geological Society)
Nunn, who has been speaking with a group of scientists working closely on the sinkhole, pointed to 3-D seismic imagery of the salt dome from 2007 to make his case.
“What this indicates is that the bottom part of this abandoned cavern completely dissolved away the salt and the cavern was in direct contact with whatever formation is in the area,” Nunn said.
The seismic data indicates that the western side of the dome has an overhang [...]
One suspicion of scientists working on the sinkhole has been that the overhang, which is above the Texas Brine cavern, collapsed as part of the cavern failure.
Nunn told geologists Friday that one of the scientists’ worst-case fears is that the salt dome could continue to break up from its western edge and threaten other underground caverns. [...]
Describing what scientists fear, Nunn added: “ ‘OK, you know, this one cavern has collapsed, so is that going to have any impact on the adjacent caverns or not?’ ” [...]
The dome, a solid salt deposit that Nunn described Friday as an underground Mt. Everest, was thrust up over geologic time through overlying sediments. [...]
According to this December 11, 2012 email, there is still nearly half a million barrels of butane in Crosstex’s nearby caverns. (h/t Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle)

3. Radioactive Materials Dispersion Simulation for Nuclear Regulatory Authority Was Done by One Worker, Using a Pocket Calculator

(Update 12/14/2012) I asked Ryuichi Kino (who's now allowed back in TEPCO press conferences) about these maps. As far as he knows, these maps still ignores geographical information, and treat the land as flat. He says he will ask about it in the next press conference of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority/Agency.


The dispersion simulation maps first announced by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority right were full of errors and had to be redone. NRA announced the corrected maps on December 13, but according to the article by Tokyo Shinbun, the real story is not the maps but how the maps were created.

According to the Tokyo Shinbun article as quoted at "Zamamiyagarei" blog, the history is as follows:
    1.    Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, before it was shut down, decided to have the simulation maps created for each nuclear power plant in Japan. It contracted Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES) to do the job. [I've read elsewhere that the job was for mere 10 million yen, or US$119,000).]
    2.    JNES had one person in charge of the job, and he gave it to a long-term subcontractor called CSA Japan in Tokyo, as usual.
    3.    CSA Japan had one person doing the job of creating the simulation maps for the entire nuclear power plants in Japan, who used his pocket calculator to calculate the dispersion models. He apparently made numerous errors, resulting in the inaccurate simulation maps that NRA announced, to their embarrassment.
    4.    No one at JNES or NRA checked the work.

It's not that using a pocket calculator is bad. An Indian "computor" (a person who computes) calculated the height of Peak XV in Himalaya by hand calculation. It is all in the brain, after all.

CSA Japan was incorporated in 1999 with the capital of 10 million yen. Its main customers are government agencies and large corporations in nuclear industry. JNES comes near the top of the customer list. TEPCO also seems to be their regular customer:
Japan Atomic Energy Agency
Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization
Tokyo Electric Power Company
The Japan Atomic Power Company
TEPCO Systems Corporation
Institute of Nuclear Safety System ,Incorporated
Genden Information System Co.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.
Nuclear Fuel Industries ,Ltd.
Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co., Ltd.
MHI Nuclear Engineering Company, Limited
Itochu Techno-Solutions Corporation
TOiNX (Tohoku Information Systems Company, Incorporated)

Why did NISA need to create simulation maps by contracting them out cheaply, which ended up on the lap of one unhappy employee at a subcontractor who used a pocket calculator? They have SPEEDI.

My guess is that NISA figured it was cheaper to contract out anew than to run SPEEDI.

"Cheap, cheap", sang a NISA bird. So sings just about every government agencies in Japan, large and small. Money before safety. That's what two "lost decades" have done to the country.

By the way, the first set of maps not only got the wind directions wrong, but they didn't consider the topography at all, treating the land in Japan as flat. I don't know if that has been corrected in the new version. With a pocket calculator, it may have been a bit too complicated.

4. Security
When a former senior White House official describes a nationwide surveillance effort as “breathtaking,” you know civil liberties activists are preparing for a fight.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the little-known National Counter terrorism Center, based in an unmarked building in McLean, Va., has been granted sweeping new authority to store and monitor massive data sets about innocent Americans.

After internal wrangling over privacy and civil liberties issues, the Justice Department reportedly signed off on controversial new guidelines earlier this year. The guidelines allow the NCTC, for the first time, to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, using “predictive pattern-matching,” to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. The data the counterterrorism center has access to, according to the Journal, includes “entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others.”

Notably, the Journal reports that these changes also allow databases about U.S. civilians to be handed over to foreign governments for analysis, presumably so that they too can attempt to determine future criminal actions. The Department of Homeland Security’s former chief privacy officer said that it represents a “sea change in the way that the government interacts with the general public.”

The snooping effort, which officials say is subject to “rigorous oversight,” is reminiscent of the so-called Total Information Awareness initiative, dreamt up in the aftermath of 9/11 by the Pentagon’s research unit DARPA. The aim of the TIA initiative was essentially to create a kind of ubiquitous pre-crime surveillance regime monitoring public and private databases. It was largely defunded in 2003, after civil liberties concerns. However, other similar efforts have continued, such as through the work of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence-gathering “Fusion Centers.” Most recently, Fusion Centers were subjected to scathing criticism from congressional investigators, who found that they were accumulating masses of data about “suspicious” activity that was not of any use. The intelligence being swept up, the investigators found, was “oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections.”

5. Did he or propaganda
Ed Haislmaier, a senior scholar at the Heritage Foundation, made himself famous in this video  where he appears to be assaulting people protesting a conference organized by Fix the Debt. While this act of bad temper may be uncharacteristic of the public behavior of this corporate-sponsored crusade to cut Social Security and Medicare, it does reflect the way in which they hope to bully their agenda through the political process.

The line from Fix the Debt, an organization that includes the CEOs of many of the country's largest corporations, and  allies like The Washington Post  is that we better have cuts to Social Security and Medicare because they say so.

Note that they did not try to push this line in the elections. Everyone knows that cuts to these programs are hugely unpopular across the political spectrum.

The Fix the Debt strategy was explicitly to wait until after the election. They would then go into high gear pushing their agenda of cutting Social Security and Medicare regardless of who won the elections. Remember, we need these cuts because they say so.

It is worth repeating the "they say so" part, because this is the only way we could know that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are necessary. It is possible to tell stories about countries where a meltdown in financial markets forced sharp budget cuts, but there is zero evidence of that for the United States.

Investors are willing to lend the U.S. government vast amounts of money at extremely low interest rates. The only reason that we have for believing that financial markets will panic if we don't make the Social Security and Medicare cuts that the Debt Fixers want to make is because they say so.
For this reason, it is worth considering what the Debt Fixers know or don't know about the economy. This means bringing up a still fresh wound: why did none of these people see the housing bubble whose collapse wrecked the economy?

It is important to understand the bubble was not hard to see, nor did it require much knowledge of economics to realize that its collapse would devastate the economy.

The bubble was an unprecedented nationwide run-up in house prices. For the 100 years from 1896 to 1996, nationwide house prices had, on average, just tracked the overall rate of inflation. In the decade from 1996 to 2006, house prices rose by more than 70 percentage points in excess of the rate of inflation.

How could anyone following the economy miss this? There are reports on house prices released every month; did none of the Debt Fixers ever look at them during the bubble years?
And there was no explanation for this extraordinary run up of prices in the fundamentals of the housing market. Population and income growth in the last decade were slow, not fast. And there was no corresponding increase in rents. If fundamentals were driving the explosion in house prices, then there should have been some pressure on rents, as well. And vacancy rates were hitting all-time highs. How does that fit with a supply-and-demand story driving up house prices?

The fact that the housing bubble was driving the economy was also not hard to see. Typically, housing construction is less than 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It peaked at more than 6 percent of GDP in 2005. Couldn't the Debt Fixers find the GDP data released every month by the Commerce Department?

Housing wealth was also driving a consumption boom as the saving rate fell to nearly zero in the years from 2004-2007. Did the Debt Fixers think that people would keep borrowing against their homes when the equity in their homes disappeared?

The bursting of the bubble meant a loss in  annual demand of more than $1 trillion when the construction and consumption boom both collapsed. What exactly did the Debt Fixers think would replace this demand?

Did they think that firms would suddenly double their investment as they saw their markets collapse? Did they think that consumers would just spend like crazy even as their housing wealth vanished? If they have a theory as to how the economy could quickly replace the demand generated by the housing bubble without large government budget deficits, it would be great if they would share.

The reality is that the Debt Fixers and their allied economists and policy wonks saw none of the above. They were completely out to lunch in their understanding of the economy.
The Debt Fixers and their allies will have to explain for themselves how they managed to miss something as huge and important to the economy as the housing bubble. However, missing an $8 trillion housing bubble is not a small mistake. It is the sort of thing that, in other lines of work, gets you fired and sent looking for a new career.

What would Michelle Rhee, the hero of the "school reform" movement, do to a public school teacher if all of that teacher's students had huge drops in scores from the prior year? The economic experts among the Debt Fixers all fit this failed-teacher description.

This means that when we get a whole bunch of seemingly important and knowledgeable people telling us that we must cut Social Security and Medicare because the markets demand it, we have to remember that these are people who were just recently shown to be completely out to lunch in their economic judgment. If the Debt Fixers expect the country to take their pronouncements seriously, they should be forced to answer one simple question: when did you stop being wrong about the economy?

Pete Peterson and the Deficit
Some commentators have vilified Peter Peterson, the investor and former Commerce secretary, for raising alarms about the deficit. They argue that Mr. Peterson is really trying to shred the American safety net. I’m not among the vilifiers. We should be taking the deficit more seriously, and Mr. Peterson is trying to make that happen.
But it’s certainly true that he and his foundation would help their case by supporting more deficit-reduction measures that hurt wealthy investors like him. Landon Thomas Jr. of The Times wrote a good article in 2008 explaining Mr. Peterson’s support for a special tax provision for investment income, and now the group Citizens for Tax Justice points out the following:

The Peter G. Peterson Institute, which is ostensibly concerned about the U.S. fiscal imbalance, has come out against provisions in [a Senate bill] that would prevent multinational corporations from abusing foreign tax credits…. [T]he credit is really being used by corporations to reduce their U.S. taxes on their U.S. income. Or, put another way, it’s being used to subsidize foreign countries by helping U.S. corporations pay their foreign taxes.
I’m not suggesting that anybody in favor of reducing the deficit needs to be in favor of every proposal to reduce the deficit. But it’s symptomatic of the larger problem if you’re opposed to too many deficit-reduction proposals that would actually affect you.
To quote Robert Choate, as I’ve done before here:
The public has a sort of sense that there’s a problem … They’re not daft. They realize that there’s a significant adjustment to come, but they tend to think it can be solved by increasing taxes that they don’t pay and cutting spending that they don’t benefit from.

7. Naked Capitalism
It would appear the ground has been laid rather effectively for (among other things) an assault on Social Security and Medicare. As we have pointed out before, Social Security is not under any immediate stress, and it would take only some minor tweaks to alleviate the (well off in the future) strains. And contrary to popular perception, the reason Medicare spending will get out of hand is due to projected medical cost escalation, not demographics.

In other words, the “crisis” in Medicare is a symptom of our broken health care system, and not an entitlements problem per se. But in addition to the continued ability of Big Pharma and the health insurance industry’s ability to make a bad situation worse, as witness our healthcare “reform,” consumers have also been deeply conditioned to see more treatment as better. From both a cost and side effects perspective, this is simply not often the case. As reader Francois T stated apropos a New York Times article that caused consternation among people who know the terrain:

My oh my! One could write a volume or two about that. I’ll limit myself to the obvious, at the expense of the details.

Their [Abelson and Harris] article and the saga surrounding its writing:
is a prime example of, when it comes to health care, Americans in general harbor very deeply rooted preconceived notions that pretty much preclude any meaningful and long-lasting reform.

The one operating in the minds of Abelson and Harris is the most toxic: More is always better. They cannot possibly bring themselves to admit, despite the overwhelming evidence of 30 years (!!) of solid, peer-reviewed research demonstrating there are ways to provide better health care outcomes while doing less, but in a SMARTER way. The evidence is crystal clear, but so are the prejudices. Since this is politics, prejudices win, hands down. Being journalists for the NYT, Abelson and Harris seem incapable of going beyond the vulgus populus.

It is important to note here that the attacks on the Dartmouth research were almost inexistent during the period post Clinton failure to reform health care…until Obama started his own attempt. A cursory Lexis-Nexis search is quite convincing in this respect. Those who stand to lose income or power during a health care reform will first and foremost attack it. Mind you, they have the tremendous advantage of playing on those preconceived notions I alluded to above.

So ingrained are these, that even senators and congresspersons who know the Dartmouth very well (yes, there are some that do) will never, ever tout the evidence publicly. Press them a bit about why they don’t, and one shall witness oratory escape maneuvers that would put Houdini to shame. It is just not (yet) “politically feasible”, as they say.
Apart from the Dartmouth research, there is another irrefutable piece of evidence that, when it comes to health care, smart beats more: The VA system.
Now, before everyone jump at my throat with the Walter Reed scandal, I would recommend reading Best Care Anywhere, by Philip Longman (updated edition 2010)
As per Maggie Mahar:
In the 2010 edition of Best Care Anywhere Longman also recounts how the Bush administration attempted to dismantle the open-source VistA software culture that Kizer had built, “doing its best to recreate the dysfunctional VA of the 1970s.” Meanwhile, as more vets turned to the VA for care (in part because the care was so much better than it had been in earlier years), the Bush administration failed to provide enough funding, leading to long lines and not a few complaints.
Fortunately for the veterans, the situation has dramatically improved since the change in Administration. (There is still a lot of work to be done, but the trend is toward improvement)
The bottom line is this: Since 1994, the turnaround of the VA system demonstrate it is possible to provide good outcomes with high patient satisfaction (except in psychiatric services, but this is another long and complex story) by following what the evidence provides, instead of being guided by which reimbursement schemes is the flavor du jour.
Similarly, the fear about rising deficits is misplaced right now. As George Soros pointed out in a speech today in Vienna, the action of righting an economy when it faces serious financial stresses is a lot like straightening out a car that has gone into a skid: you need to turn the wheels into the skid, which looks like taking it further off the track where you want it to go, until it regains traction and you can then steer it back to its proper path. In this case, we need an expansion of public debt to offset the needed contraction in private sector debt, and then to (Soros did point out that this was a tricky operation). Otherwise, a resumption of the crisis is in the cards.
There is considerable evidence that the deficit fears in general, and the attack on entitlements in particular, has been marketed actively. Our colleague Tom Ferguson explains below:

Glen Greewald
8. HSBC, too big to jail, is the new poster child for US two-tiered justice system
DOJ officials unblinkingly insist that the banking giant is too powerful and important to subject to the rule of law
The US is the world's largest prison state, imprisoning more of its citizens than any nation on earth, both in absolute numbers and proportionally. It imprisons people for longer periods of time, more mercilessly, and for more trivial transgressions than any nation in the west. This sprawling penal state has been constructed over decades, by both political parties, and it punishes the poor and racial minorities at overwhelmingly disproportionate rates.
But not everyone is subjected to that system of penal harshness. It all changes radically when the nation's most powerful actors are caught breaking the law. With few exceptions, they are gifted not merely with leniency, but full-scale immunity from criminal punishment. Thus have the most egregious crimes of the last decade been fully shielded from prosecution when committed by those with the greatest political and economic power: the construction of a worldwide torture regime, spying on Americans' communications without the warrants required by criminal law by government agencies and the telecom industry, an aggressive war launched on false pretenses, and massive, systemic financial fraud in the banking and credit industry that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.
This two-tiered justice system was the subject of my last book, "With Liberty and Justice for Some", and what was most striking to me as I traced the recent history of this phenomenon is how explicit it has become. Obviously, those with money and power always enjoyed substantial advantages in the US justice system, but lip service was at least always paid to the core precept of the rule of law: that - regardless of power, position and prestige - all stand equal before the blindness of Lady Justice.
It really is the case that this principle is now not only routinely violated, as was always true, but explicitly repudiated, right out in the open. It is commonplace to hear US elites unblinkingly insisting that those who become sufficiently important and influential are - and should be - immunized from the system of criminal punishment to which everyone else is subjected.
Worse, we are constantly told that immunizing those with the greatest power is not for their good, but for our good, for our collective good: because it's better for all of us if society is free of the disruptions that come from trying to punish the most powerful, if we're free of the deprivations that we would collectively experience if we lose their extraordinary value and contributions by prosecuting them.
This rationale was popularized in 1974 when Gerald Ford explained why Richard Nixon - who built his career as a "law-and-order" politician demanding harsh punishments and unforgiving prosecutions for ordinary criminals - would never see the inside of a courtroom after being caught committing multiple felonies; his pardon was for the good not of Nixon, but of all of us. That was the same reasoning hauled out to justify immunity for officials of the National Security State who tortured and telecom giants who illegally spied on Americans (we need them to keep us safe and can't disrupt them with prosecutions), as well as the refusal to prosecute any Wall Street criminals for their fraud (prosecutions for these financial crimes would disrupt our collective economic recovery).
A new episode unveiled on Tuesday is one of the most vivid examples yet of this mentality. Over the last year, federal investigators found that one of the world's largest banks, HSBC, spent years committing serious crimes, involving money laundering for terrorists; "facilitat[ing] money laundering by Mexican drug cartels"; and "mov[ing] tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups". Those investigations uncovered substantial evidence "that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity." As but one example, "an HSBC executive at one point argued that the bank should continue working with the Saudi Al Rajhi bank, which has supported Al Qaeda."
Needless to say, these are the kinds of crimes for which ordinary and powerless people are prosecuted and imprisoned with the greatest aggression possible. If you're Muslim and your conduct gets anywhere near helping a terrorist group, even by accident, you're going to prison for a long, long time. In fact, powerless, obscure, low-level employees are routinely sentenced to long prison terms for engaging in relatively petty money laundering schemes, unrelated to terrorism, and on a scale that is a tiny fraction of what HSBC and its senior officials are alleged to have done.
But not HSBC. On Tuesday, not only did the US Justice Department announce that HSBC would not be criminally prosecuted, but outright claimed that the reason is that they are too important, too instrumental to subject them to such disruptions. In other words, shielding them from the system of criminal sanction to which the rest of us are subject is not for their good, but for our common good. We should not be angry, but grateful, for the extraordinary gift bestowed on the global banking giant:
"US authorities defended their decision not to prosecute HSBC for accepting the tainted money of rogue states and drug lords on Tuesday, insisting that a $1.9bn fine for a litany of offences was preferable to the 'collateral consequences' of taking the bank to court. . . .
"Announcing the record fine at a press conference in New York, assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer said that despite HSBC"s 'blatant failure' to implement anti-money laundering controls and its wilful flouting of US sanctions, the consequences of a criminal prosecution would have been dire.
"Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised.
"HSBC, Britain's biggest bank, said it was 'profoundly sorry' for what it called 'past mistakes' that allowed terrorists and narcotics traffickers to move billions around the financial system and circumvent US banking laws. . . .
"As part of the deal, HSBC has undertaken a five-year agreement with the US department of justice under which it will install an independent monitor to assess reformed internal controls. The bank's top executives will defer part of their bonuses for the whole of the five-year period, while bonuses have been clawed back from a number of former and current executives, including those in the US directly involved at the time.
"John Coffee, a professor of law at Columbia Law School in New York, said the fine was consistent with how US regulators have been treating bank infractions in recent years. 'These days they rarely sue individuals in any meaningful way when the entity will settle. This is largely a function of resource constraints, but also risk aversion, and a willingness to take the course of least resistance,' he said."
DOJ officials touted the $1.9 billion fine HSBC would pay, the largest ever for such a case. As the Guardian's Nils Pratley noted, "the sum represents about four weeks' earnings given the bank's pre-tax profits of $21.9bn last year." Unsurprisingly, "the steady upward progress of HSBC's share price since the scandal exploded in July was unaffected on Tuesday morning."
The New York Times Editors this morning announced: "It is a dark day for the rule of law." There is, said the NYT editors, "no doubt that the wrongdoing at HSBC was serious and pervasive." But the bank is simply too big, too powerful, too important to prosecute.
That's not merely a dark day for the rule of law. It's a wholesale repudiation of it. The US government is expressly saying that banking giants reside outside of - above - the rule of law, that they will not be punished when they get caught red-handed committing criminal offenses for which ordinary people are imprisoned for decades. Aside from the grotesque injustice, the signal it sends is as clear as it is destructive: you are free to commit whatever crimes you want without fear of prosecution. And obviously, if the US government would not prosecute these banks on the ground that they're too big and important, it would - yet again, or rather still - never let them fail.
But this case is the opposite of an anomaly. That the most powerful actors should be immunized from the rule of law - not merely treated better, but fully immunized - is a constant, widely affirmed precept in US justice. It's applied to powerful political and private sector actors alike. Over the past four years, the CIA and NSA have received the same gift, as have top Executive Branch officials, as has the telecom industry, as has most of the banking industry. This is how I described it in "With Liberty and Justice for Some":
"To hear our politicians and our press tell it, the conclusion is inescapable: we're far better off when political and financial elites - and they alone - are shielded from criminal accountability.
"It has become a virtual consensus among the elites that their members are so indispensable to the running of American society that vesting them with immunity from prosecution - even for the most egregious crimes - is not only in their interest but in our interest, too. Prosecutions, courtrooms, and prisons, it's hinted - and sometimes even explicitly stated - are for the rabble, like the street-side drug peddlers we occasionally glimpse from our car windows, not for the political and financial leaders who manage our nation and fuel our prosperity.
"It is simply too disruptive, distracting, and unjust, we are told, to subject them to the burden of legal consequences."
That is precisely the rationale explicitly invoked by DOJ officials to justify their decision to protect HSBC from criminal accountability. These are the same officials who previously immunized Bush-era torturers and warrantless eavesdroppers, telecom giants, and Wall Street executives, even as they continue to persecute whistleblowers at record rates and prosecute ordinary citizens - particularly poor and minorities - with extreme harshness even for trivial offenses. The administration that now offers the excuse that HSBC is too big to prosecute is the same one that quite consciously refused to attempt to break up these banks in the aftermath of the "too-big-to-fail" crisis of 2008, as former TARP overseer Neil Barofsky, among others, has spent years arguing.
And, of course, these HSBC-protectors in the Obama DOJ are the same officials responsible for maintaining and expanding what NYT Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal has accurately described as "essentially a separate justice system for Muslims," one in which "the principle of due process is twisted and selectively applied, if it is applied at all." What has been created is not so much a "two-tiered justice system" as a multi-tiered one, entirely dependent on the identity of the alleged offender rather than the crimes of which they are accused.
Having different "justice systems" for citizens based on their status, wealth, power and prestige is exactly what the US founders argued most strenuously had to be avoided (even as they themselves maintained exactly such a system). But here we have in undeniable clarity not merely proof of exactly how this system functions, but also the rotted and fundamentally corrupt precept on which it's based: that some actors are simply too important and too powerful to punish criminally. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz warned in 2010, exempting the largest banks from criminal prosecution has meant that lawlessness and "venality" is now "at a higher level" in the US even than that which prevailed in the pervasively corrupt and lawless privatizing era in Russia.
Having the US government act specially to protect the most powerful factions, particularly banks, was a major impetus that sent people into the streets protesting both as part of the early Tea Party movement as well as the Occupy movement. As well as it should: it is truly difficult to imagine corruption and lawlessness more extreme than having the government explicitly place the most powerful factions above the rule of law even as it continues to subject everyone else to disgracefully harsh "justice". If this HSBC gift makes more manifest this radical corruption, then it will at least have achieved some good.
By coincidence, on the very same day that the DOJ announced that HSBC would not be indicted for its multiple money-laundering felonies, the New York Times published a story featuring the harrowing story of an African-American single mother of three who was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 27 for a minor drug offense:

"Stephanie George and Judge Roger Vinson had quite different opinions about the lockbox seized by the police from her home in Pensacola. She insisted she had no idea that a former boyfriend had hidden it in her attic. Judge Vinson considered the lockbox, containing a half-kilogram of cocaine, to be evidence of her guilt.
"But the defendant and the judge fully agreed about the fairness of the sentence he imposed in federal court.
"'Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing,' Judge Vinson told Ms. George, 'your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing, so certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.'
"Yet the judge had no other option on that morning 15 years ago. As her stunned family watched, Ms. George, then 27, who had never been accused of violence, was led from the courtroom to serve a sentence of life without parole.
"'I remember my mom crying out and asking the Lord why,' said Ms. George, now 42, in an interview at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. 'Sometimes I still can't believe myself it could happen in America.'"
As the NYT notes - and read her whole story to get the full flavor of it - this is commonplace for the poor and for minorities in the US justice system. Contrast that deeply oppressive, merciless punishment system with the full-scale immunity bestowed on HSBC - along with virtually every powerful and rich lawbreaking faction in America over the last decade - and that is the living, breathing two-tiered US justice system. How this glaringly disparate, and explicitly status-based, treatment under the criminal law does not produce serious social unrest is mystifying.

Book Review: With Liberty and Justice for Some by Glenn Greenwald
This is an infuriating book. There were many times during last weekend when I was reading it that I wanted to hurl it against the wall though I am not by nature prone to such dramatic displays of emotion.
The reason is not the usual one, which is that one hates the book. It is because the story that Greenwald tells, in his typically direct and lawyerly style, about how the US has steadily deteriorated to become a nation to which the labels 'oligarchy', 'plutocracy', and 'banana republic' have become so apropos, was so infuriating. I am old enough and follow politics closely enough that almost all of the individual cases that Greenwald talks about are familiar to me, at least in general terms. But to see it all carefully laid out end to end, to see the steady and deliberate and knowing erosion of the rule of law, to see the corruption and hypocrisy that is at the core of the government-business-media oligarchy that runs the US, to see the cheerleading for this process by the establishment media all the while relentlessly preening themselves on being watchdogs, is to realize how terrible is the current state of affairs.
The subtitle of the book How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful pretty much says it all. He points out that equality before the law is one of the bedrock principles upon which the US was built, and indeed is seen as the basis for any just society, but that ideal has been dramatically undermined in the last four decades. This does not mean that there is, or has ever been, perfect equality in the past. As he writes:

Wealth and power have always conferred substantial advantages, and it is thus unsurprising that throughout history the rich and well-connected have enjoyed superior treatment under the law. In the past, those advantages were broadly seen as failures of justice and ruefully acknowledged as shortcomings of the legal system. Today, however, in a radical and momentous shift, the American political class and its media increasingly repudiate the principle that the law must be equally applied to all. To hear our politicians and our press tell it, the conclusion is inescapable: we're far better off when political and financial elites-and they alone-are shielded from criminal accountability.
It has become a virtual consensus among the elites that their members are so indispensable to the running of American society that vesting them with immunity from prosecution-even for the most egregious crimes-is not only in their interest but in our interest, too. Prosecutions, courtrooms, and prisons, it's hinted-and sometimes even explicitly stated-are for the rabble, like the street-side drug peddlers we occasionally glimpse from our car windows, not for the political and financial leaders who manage our nation and fuel our prosperity. (p. 15)

The Height of Fiscal Folly'
Laura Tyson echoes the message at the end of the post below this one (here too):
The Trade-Off Between Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction, by Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Commentary, NY Times: ...After three years of recovery, the economy is still operating far below its potential and long-term interest rates are hovering near historic lows. Under these circumstances, the case for expansionary fiscal measures, even if they increase the deficit temporarily, is compelling.
A recent study by the International Monetary Fund finds large positive multiplier effects of expansionary fiscal policy on output and employment under such circumstances. ... The rationale for expansionary fiscal policy is particularly compelling for federal investment spending in areas like education and infrastructure...
The economy does not need an outsize dose of fiscal austerity now; it does need a credible deficit-reduction plan to stabilize the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio gradually as the economy recovers. As I contended in an earlier Economix post, the plan should have an unemployment-rate target or trigger that would postpone deficit-reduction measures until the target is achieved. ...
The goal of deficit reduction is to ensure the economy’s long-term growth and stability. It would be the height of fiscal folly to kill the economy’s painful recovery from the Great Recession in pursuit of this goal.

11. A former financial firm exec said via e-mail:
Much (though not all) of what we define as the financial crisis happened without any whistleblowing at all. When asked about their questionable behavior in front of committees or judges, the bankers and industry insiders say that it’s just the way the world works – immoral, but not illegal. It’s part of why bankers react so strongly against Obama and OWS – they feel they are now being persecuted for stuff that everybody was doing and nobody – that they knew – thought it was wrong or illegal.
For 3 employees in a bank, 2 of whom were pretty senior, to speak up about the same deal, something unusual was happening.

And let’s get to the basic issue. The LSS trade, if properly modeled and accounted for, would never have been done in the volume that it was and Canadian investors would have been spared at least some of the disruption and losses that they suffered. But the traders and their managers were able to pull out more in bonuses by booking the trade in a way that exaggerated its profits. This is looting, pure and simple. Tough accounting and controls won’t catch all bad or sloppy behavior, but it would have stopped this trade, and you can be sure it would have prevented others.

The state’s established parent groups – including the PTA – began signaling the day before Tony Bennett’s appointment as Florida’s new education commissioner that the BOE’s  selection of candidates promised to be so divisive that it would  assign them as the spiraling out of control status quoers.. They did it anyway.  Blind to the realities of what Florida’s collapsing multiple accountability system actually means, the BOE unanimously appointed the one candidate who could deliver the most fuel to the fire.  The Herald-Tribune writer Lloyd Dunkelberger has this statement from FEA president Andy Ford:

The Florida Education Association is disappointed and disheartened at the selection of Tony Bennett to be Florida’s education commissioner. Bennett proved to be divisive in his tenure in the same position in Indiana and was voted out of office last month in the conservative state. He is a champion of the testing mania, unchecked expansion of charter schools and voucher programs and has proven to advance the Jeb Bush education agenda that has drawn fire from teachers, parents and experts in the field. That’s the same approach that has led to a flawed and chaotic system in Florida that has frustrated parents and teachers alike. In Indiana, teachers and education professionals felt he was blaming them for all of the state’s education woes.
“We certainly hope he has learned his lessons by being rejected in Indiana. But we’re skeptical. This decision does not indicate that the State Board of Education and Gov. Rick Scott understand that parents, teachers and those who question a flawed reform agenda deserve their voices heard and their insights and expertise incorporated into Florida’s strategy for public education. The Board and the governor once again have ignored the parents and teachers of our state.”
Two days of news from Florida’s parent group opposition trumps hyper-partisans on the board like Kathleen Shanahan who will want to blame the state’s teacher unions. We’ve yet to hear from any of the local school board members across the state who passed resolutions against high-stakes testing or have been battling the state board on charter schools. If Bennett’s history is any clue, he’ll have them riled up within a few weeks of taking the post in January.


13. You may know Florida is getting a new education secretary named Tony Bennett.
(No, not that Tony Bennett … though that’d be kind of cool.)
What you may not know is we’re getting him only because Indiana tossed him out. Voters of that very conservative state — Mitt Romney won by 10 points in Indiana — booted this conservative reformer from office just last month.
Apparently a big reason is that Bennett’s version of “reform” involved a whole lot of teacher-bashing.
Don’t take my word for it. Take it from one of Indiana’s leading voices of conservative school reform, lawyer and blogger Paul Ogden. He penned a piece titled: “Why Tony Bennett Lost —The Folly of Beating Up Teachers for Public Education’s Problems.”
We all know our schools need help. And maybe Bennett learned a lesson. But the last thing this state needs is another teacher-trasher.
Florida’s teacher trasher-in-chief, Jeb Bush, who is close to Bennett, likely used his political capital to assure Bennett was appointed.  But Maxwell goes to the politics of the matter and looks to one of Indiana’s most influential political columnist in Paul Ogden. Here’s a key part of Ogden’s bomb damage assessment of the aftermath of Bennett’s defeat:

When Tony Bennett was elected four years ago, I was puzzled when he made classroom teachers a primary target. I didn’t think that part of his reform philosophy was correct. As it turns out targeting classroom teachers is also bad politics. Teachers are great at networking and voting as a coalition. Unlike what many conservatives think, however, many teachers are, in fact, Republican.
My Democratic friends though are going to be pretty disappointed when they find out that electing Glenda Ritz Superintendent of Public Instruction is unlikely to stop the pace of education reform in this state. Education reform is driven primarily by the Governor and the Indiana General Assembly. Working around Ritz will be a piece of cake. In fact, an untold story is that Bennett’s abrasive style and reluctance to listen to input from others had actually started alienating supporters of education reform, including Republican state legislators.
Bush has been able to stay out of the line of fire during Florida’s recent debacles of its accountability systems that are of his doing. Bennett’s presence will allow his to continue to do so. Yet Bennett has been put into a job where he’s got to be a fixer and not a changer like he was back in Indiana. This may not what he’s all about. I lost count of how many times he used “accountability” during his interview.
Some board members coaxed contrition out of Bennett during his public interview on Tuesday, but he still has to prove it’s genuine. Rick Scott wasted several months on a good will tour he obviously had no intention of following through on, but he has a lightening rod in Bennett and a partisan state board to hide behind now. But the realities of Indiana politics translate to Florida. Republican voters will throw out republicans.

14. Florida School Superintendent: SB 736 Teacher Evaluations “Inconsistent, Unfair, Unscientific”
By: Bob Sikes – Scathing Purple Musings
Just 8 months ago, two retiring Florida superintendents of schools warned that the of SB 736 are “unworkable and may be the tipping point” in Florida’s education accountability system. Bill Vogel (Seminole) and Ron Blocker (Orange) spoke with Orlando Sentinel reporter Dave Weber.
Florida’s runaway school accountability system is destined to fail and take with it the positive goals it was intended to accomplish, the superintendents of Orange and Seminole county schools agreed Friday.
Orange Superintendent Ron Blocker and Bill Vogel, superintendent of Seminole schools, said the state’s school districts are being overwhelmed by demands of the continually expanding accountability system. Teacher evaluations based in large part on student test scores — the latest requirement imposed by the Legislature — are unworkable and may be the tipping point, they said
We have an accountability system that is going to fall apart like a house of cards,” said Vogel,
criticizing state leaders for “making up the rules as they go along” without listening to educators.
…….But what initially started out as testing students to correct their deficiencies has gone astray, Blocker and Vogel said. Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is unproven and costly, they said…….The cost is in the millions and it will bring down the entire accountability system,” Vogel said. Blocker said the increasingly heavy student testing schedule “tends to narrowly focus” on immediate results, bringing concern whether students are gaining lasting knowledge.
Writing in this morning’s Gainesville Sun, Alachua county superintendent Dan Boyd obviously agrees with his colleagues:

The new evaluation system the state rushed to implement is based on what’s called the value-added model, VAM for short. Essentially the state predicts what a student’s score will be on the FCAT, then looks at how the student actually did and evaluates teachers accordingly.
It’s a system that’s been tried and studied in other places across the country. There’s no evidence it’s valid, but the state went ahead with it anyway.
What the state refused to do was come up with one consistent formula for using VAM scores statewide. Instead, it dumped that responsibility onto the districts, which were left to come up with their own formulas with little guidance from the state and without any actual data.
As a result, we’ve got 67 districts with 67 formulas……That’s only one of the system’s many flaws. The law forces districts to assign student VAM scores to all teachers, including those who didn’t teach FCAT subjects or grade levels. As a result, 75 percent of Alachua County’s teachers got scores for subjects they don’t teach, students they don’t teach, or both. It makes no sense, but it’s what we’re stuck with……….Alachua County is sending up a revised plan. The DOE will still have to approve it and it will still have to comply with the law. And there’s the rub, because any way you slice it, this system is badly flawed. It’s inconsistent, it’s unfair and it’s unscientific. Worst of all, there’s no proof that it does anything to actually help students.
One striking agreement between the three is their assertion that SB 736 does nothing for  students. Yet the rhetoric of legislators like now thankfully retired Senator Steve (R-Jacksonville : “kids will be irreparably  harmed”) and Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville: “I’m shocked, shocked that a union doesn’t want to have their members evaluated on the basis of performance.”) leads one to believe they are only interested in getting their way on the backs of Florida’s children.
You can be assured that it is naysayers like the three superintendents that Tony Bennett – the man who wants to be Florida’s next education commissioner is trying to eliminate with the changes in professional educator standards he and Governor Mitch Daniels shoved down the throats of Hoosiers last week.  The folly of not listening to educators and the  arrogance of state policy-makers couldn’t be more obvious for Floridians.

15. Tony Bennett’s Plan to Degrade and Cheapen the Education Profession
By: Bob Sikes – Scathing Purple Musings
In two days, recently ousted Indiana education boss Tony Bennett will sit down for an interview with members of the state board of education at the Tampa Airport Marriott. He’ll find kindred spirits on the board as with the exception of one, all were appointed by either former governor Jeb Bush or current governor Ricks Scott. The lone exception, John Padget, was appointed by Charlie Crist. It’s noteworthy that the only educator on the board is Crist’s appointee, Padget.
Bennett clearly scoffs at the notion that experience, training and professionalism are important in educating the nation’s children. One only needs to look at the plan that Bennett and Indiana governor Mitch Daniels have just rammed through. Here’s the details from an editorial in the Terra Haute Tribune-Star:
*You can get an “adjunct teaching permit” if you have a four-year college degree with at least a 3.0 grade point average and the ability to pass a test of your proficiency to teach a subject — as one newspaper reporter noted, with “no special teacher training, student teaching or experience necessary.”
* If you are a licensed teacher of, say, chemistry, you can also teach, say, French, if you pass a test — no additional classwork required.
*If you want to be a superintendent and don’t have a doctorate but have a master’s degree, go ahead.
* If you want to be a principal but have no master’s but do have two years of teaching experience, a bachelor’s degree and can complete a training program, congratulations.
Bennett is part of the education privatization conspiracy and with the help of Daniel’s clout is greasing the slide for two entities to move into Indiana. With Indiana’s hyper-charter school fetish well underway, Bennett is looking for more opportunities for Teach for American recruits. Wendy Kopp’s corporation received over $70 million in federal taxpayer money in 2011 to churn out new college grads to teach the nation’s schools. Hoping they stay only 2 or 3 years and work cheap, TFA cadets are a preferred option for charter school operators who want to take down a huge salary.
The Bennett-Daniels scam also wants to get people – like those TFA cadets – into principal and superintendent positions who buy into public education as a profit-driven institution. Perhaps even more Broad Foundation candidates who have no education credentials will find their way into Indiana.
One test apparently means everything to Bennett as it’s the only standard that matters in his new plan for teachers. Presumably, the same is true for students. Such narrowness has failed many Florida kids as evidenced by lagging graduation rates and the 54 percent of college freshmen who need remediation. A witness of the Bennett-Daniels education record, the editors of the Tribune-Star add this condemnation of the imposition on new educator standards:
We thought the whole stated point of the Mitch Daniels-Tony Bennett torrent of breakneck changes exacted upon Indiana’s primary and secondary schools was to improve the quality of education so our students would learn better and our teachers and administrators would work smarter.
But actions taken last Wednesday by the Bennett-dominated State Board of Education seem, instead, to lessen the quality of instruction. And, with apologies to “Sesame Street,” the timing the board’s actions was sponsored by the letter “P” — for Politics.
…..But as the days of Bennett’s rule counted down, the fix was in, the rush was on, and the politics won out over reason. If you were looking for an instant example of why Bennett’s style and influence have so inflamed Indiana’s teachers — and not a few administrators — here it is.
Is the fix in for Florida with Bennett being the ultimate hired gun to impose Jeb Bush’s vision? The last-minute maneuvers and protestations in the aftermath of Bennett’s ouster by Indiana voters are  another instance of ideological zealotry the ed reform movement is famous for. We’ll see this week if some Florida ed reformers on the state board are similarly irrational and bring in  a candidate ill-suited to Florida’s needs, but someone just like them.
Read original article:

16. Has the Florida Department of Education Become a Propaganda Arm of the Education Reform Movement?
By: Bob Sikes – Scathing Purple Musings
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the hacks at the Florida Department of Education would quickly respond to a U.S. Department of Education report which found Florida graduation rates to be, well, abysmal.  It took four days. Lets compare the two reports.
On Monday, Gradebook’s Jeff Solocheck wrote this of the federal report:
The new federal comparison, from 2010-11, doesn’t paint a pretty picture for Florida. For all students, Florida’s graduation rate was 71 percent, lower than all but five states (Alaska, Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon) and the District of Columbia.
The state’s rates for minority groups were lower than the total — 69 percent of Hispanics and 59 percent of African-Americans. In comparison to other states, Florida’s Hispanic graduation rate surpassed that of 17 states and D.C., while its African-American graduation rate was better than five states and D.C.
Orlando Sentinel education reporter Leslie Postal wrote this yesterday:
Florida’s high school graduation rate for 2012 was 74.5 percent, an “unprecedented” jump from the previous year, according to the Florida Department of Education.
The graduation rate — calculated using a new federal formula — is 3.9 percentage points higher than last year’s rate 70.6 percent. That is the largest, single-year increase since 2003, using the federal calculation, the department said.
State officials said they were delighted, particularly with the hikes in graduation rates for black and Hispanic students, who have lagged behind when it comes to earning diplomas.
Florida’s graduation rate last year, however, was among the lowest in the nation, according to federal data on most states. Based on 2011 data, Florida’s rate of about 71 percent was better than that of only five other states.
The state’s high schools have been waiting for their grades for eight months, yet the FDOE was able to churn out this past year’s graduation numbers in the matter of hours. How convenient.
Meanwhile a one time charter school owner turned charter school bureaucrat quickly generated favorable data for state charter schools. On November 15, State Impact reporter John O’Connor wrote of UCF professor Stanley Smith research which concluded that the state’s charter schools were not performing as well as public schools. Just six days later, Adam Miller, the FDOE’s charter school director released a contrary report.
Read rest of article::

473 + 107 + 10=590

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

PNN 12/9/12 - FDP Chair Candidates

PNN - Dec 9 FDP Chair Candidates

7:00-7:15 Rick's opening
7:10-7:15 : Introduce Pres. Sally Phillips,
                                1st VP Dr. Maureen McKenna
                                 Pres. Susan Smith
7:15-7:45 : Alan Clendenin
7:46-8:15 : Annette Taddeo-Goldstein
8:16-8:45 : Panelists Wrap up with explanation of the voting process;
8:50-9:00pm Rick's close

Invited Candidates:

Alan Clendenin - Hillsborough County DEC State Committeeman
Annette Taddeo-Goldstein - Miami-Dade DEC Chair
Allison Tant Richard - Leon DEC Chair (candidate)

The program will be hosted by:

Progressive News Network's Rick Spisak
Florida Democratic GLBT Caucus President Sally Phillips
Democratic Women's Club of Florida 1st Vice-President Dr. Maureen McKenna
President, Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida
President Susan Smith

1. Covering Obama’s Secret War
When drones strike, key questions go unasked and unanswered
n the spring of 2009, New York Times reporter David Rohde was being held captive by Taliban gunmen in a house in Waziristan, a mountainous region on the Pakistan side of the border with Afghanistan. Aerial drones soared overhead, filling him and his kidnappers with a sense of dread, until one day, he later wrote, “Our nightmare had come to pass.” A drone fired missiles near their house, killing several militants on a road and terrifying people in the area. The house withstood the attack but, Rohde wrote, “the plastic sheeting covering the window hung in tatters.” He learned about the efficiency of the drones on that day and also saw the wrath they incurred: “My captors expressed more hatred for President Obama than for President Bush.”
Rohde is one of the only Americans to see the drones up close: not, it turned out, as a reporter, but as a prisoner. His first-hand perspective on the strike is rare, and the novelty of his reporting underscores the difficulties of covering this new kind of war, a remote-controlled campaign officially denied by the US government that is unfolding in a region where Pakistani officials have forbidden reporters to travel independently.
Journalists are struggling under these challenging circumstances. Even those reporting safely from afar have not succeeded in digging down to basic questions about drone attacks: How are targets chosen? Under what legal authority? How successful are drones in killing enemies and sparing civilians? Are the drones helping win the war against would-be terrorists?
War reporting is one of journalism’s highest callings, and for good reason: citizens need to know if battles are successful, and what the costs are in blood and money. But it is difficult to grasp the new war that Americans are fighting in Pakistan. As described by former US officials who participated, it is conducted not by military generals but by cia officers who are guiding drones from offices in Langley, Virginia, that kill people in a country with which the US is not at war.
“I think this is an issue that we—both as a profession of journalists and the public—have accepted without sufficient debate,” said Washington Post op-ed columnist David Ignatius, who often writes about the CIA and national security issues. “There is something about assassination from ten thousand feet that is more acceptable than it would be from one foot, by the bayonet.”
Indeed, the existence of this large-scale, secretive program that is designed to “neutralize” people has become one of the biggest and least understood stories of the Obama administration. Because it is hard for journalists to bear witness, it is difficult for citizens to get a clear picture of what is being done in their name.
Drone Strikes Ramp Up
President Barack Obama has authorized 193 drone strikes in Pakistan since he took office in 2009, more than four times the number of attacks that President George W. Bush authorized during his two terms, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington-based public-policy institute.
Unmanned aircraft became part of the US arsenal in the 1990s, as reconnaissance drones recorded images of terrain in the Balkans. After the September 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush signed a directive that authorized arming the drones, called Predators, with Hellfire missiles to try to take out terrorism suspects, according to military officials. He later widened the directive to allow strikes against anyone working inside terrorist camps, not just individual suspects.
Today, according to military officials, the United States is running two drone programs: the military is in charge of drones in Afghanistan, where the country is officially at war; the cia, meanwhile, runs the drone program in Pakistan, an ally in the war in Afghanistan. The drone operations in Afghanistan are relatively straightforward and US officials routinely release information about the attacks. In Pakistan, where the CIA is running the show, the situation is different.

2. Oil Companies bribing Gulf Coast States
Recently, Gulf area legislators have been pushing to get their states a larger share of government income from offshore drilling. We’re told that they need the extra revenue to improve flood protection. But more is afoot here, and it deserves scrutiny.
First, here’s the background, from the Los Angeles Times:
Severe flooding from Hurricane Isaac has prompted a new effort by Gulf Coast lawmakers to secure a larger share of federal offshore drilling revenue to fund projects such as flood protection.
But the idea faces opposition from lawmakers who say it would siphon away money needed to pay Uncle Sam’s bills.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) stoked the debate this week by appealing to President Obama during his visit to the storm-battered area to support letting states share 37.5% of federal revenue from energy production off their coasts…..
Fair enough. But there’s a missing piece of this, about who benefits most. And it’s not the public.
Flood control work generates a ton of local income. It creates jobs. Channeling a larger share of the federal share of drilling income into the local area, you give residents a reason not to oppose continued drilling. Of course, these are the same people whose environment has been so badly harmed, perhaps permanently, by the risky practices of offshore production.
In other words, the very same people facing massive economic dislocation, the devastation of their ecosystem, and related chronic illness are being given a reason to put up with even more potential problems in the future.
Why shouldn’t the money from drilling go directly to the public to alleviate the harm done to it—and to develop alternative energy sources to reduce our dependency on the dangers increasingly associated with extraction of fossil fuels?
Actually, the region already gets plenty for harm remediation related to the BP spill.
One possible source of new money: the fines of as much as $21 billion that BP is expected to pay for the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill. Congress recently voted to steer 80% of the penalties to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to help restore coastal ecosystems and rebuild regional economies.
But Landrieu is seeking additional money from offshore drilling, noting that inland states such as Colorado and Wyoming receive about half the revenue from drilling on federal land. “Coastal states should receive a similar allotment so they can engage these funds in flood protection,” she said in a letter to Obama.
She is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsoring legislation that would let states receive 37.5% of all federal offshore drilling revenue. The idea has gained the backing of pro-production lawmakers who see it as a way to build public support for expanded offshore energy exploration that would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
There it is—in paragraph NINE. Should be in the first paragraph, and should be in the headline. Instead, it is buried under the bland headline
…which resulted in almost no one paying any attention to this story, dated September 6—and to what is really going on.
Of course, contrary to what the Los Angeles Times asserts, the real reason the lawmakers support the move is NOT their concern to reduce dependence on foreign oil. It is to increase our tolerance for risky domestic drilling.
If you doubt there’s more to it, consider who feathers Sen. Mary Landrieu’s nest. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the vast majority of her campaign contributions from 2007-2012 ($2.5 million) came from  law firms, lobbyists, and the oil & gas industry. Guess who is one of the biggest clients of law firms and lobbyists? The oil & gas industry. It’s a safe bet that without doing that industry’s bidding, Mary Landrieu is toast. So she has to promote measures like this that do harm to the public interest and produce more profits for the dominant industry in her area.
It’s not that Mary Landrieu is a good or a bad person, any more than any of her Gulf Coast colleagues, of both parties, who also support this move. It’s that the system is so dirty. And that the public doesn’t have a media that can afford to just tell it to us straight—in such a way as to make us care, and make us want to actually do something about it.
Bet that, without public understanding of what is at stake, the very people who have a reason to fight against more offshore drilling in the gulf will be out there arguing for it.

3. Progressive Journalists get off the record meeting with the White House
    TPM + KOS +
(Later Discussion on TPM - "What's the Big Deal with Drone Warfare?"
  on subscription only part of Website.

4. The Low Power FM Deception
In response to the recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission to expand the LPFM broadcast service based on the Local Community Radio Act of 2010

by Stephen Dunifer
Free Radio Berkeley

Despite the well-intentioned efforts of organizations such as Prometheus Radio Project and Free Press to reform the media landscape, these efforts have only played into the hands of the government and the corporations who control it. This is the nature of reform, nothing more than a discussion about how to make the jail cell more comfortable - leaving intact the established relationships of power, control and finance. In the case of Prometheus Radio Project, they have fallen victim to their own historical revisionism, forgetting it was a national campaign of electronic disobedience (the Free Radio Movement) that forced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revisit the issue of low power community broadcasting. Hardly a gesture of beneficence from then FCC chairman William Kennard who began his legal career with a 1 year fellowship from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), assuming the role of assistant general counsel for the NAB shortly thereafter. Moving on from there, he made partner in a DC law firm (i.e. lobbyists) representing corporate communications interests prior to being appointed FCC Chairman by Bill Clinton in 1997. Currently, he is the Managing Director for the Global Telecom and Media Group of the Carlyle Group. It was Bill Clinton who signed the Telecommunications Deregulation Act of 1996, leading to an intense period of further media consolidation and control.

As a whole, the Free Radio Movement was not interested in a few crumbs off the table or an extremely thin slice of the pie -- it wanted the entire bakery! The airwaves belonged to the people and the people were going to take them back. Despite its own particular shortcomings, this movement, over a period of less than 10 years, was able to elevate the discussion of media ownership and control to both a national and an international level. Although it did not blossom into a movement until 1993, it owed much to the slightly earlier efforts of radio radicals such as Black Rose, Bill Dugan, Mbanna Kantako, and Tetsuo Kogawi. During this period, normally not well known academic authors and media critics such as Robert McChesney were finally able to find a national platform for their views on media consolidation.

With a history beginning in the early days of radio broadcasting, radio as a tool of popular liberation, struggle and expression has always been the instrument of choice whether as: a voice of US labor in the 1920's; part of the Resistance during WWII; an expression of the Bolivian tin miners' struggles in the 1950's; Radio Rebelde, the voice of the Cuban Revolution; radio ships blasting rock and roll into the British Isles when the BBC refused to play such music; the pirate radio explosion in Europe during the 1970's and 1980's; and, Radio Venceremos and Radio Farabundo Marti in El Salvador during the Central American “Dirty Wars” of the 1980's.

It was this spirit that attracted many individuals and communities to the Free Radio Movement. Although the campaign of electronic civil disobedience did not get really rolling until early 1995, when a Federal Judge refused the FCC's motion for a preliminary injunction to shut down Free Radio Berkeley, broadcasting stations started taking to air soon after Free Radio Berkeley received widespread publicity in 1993. Unlicensed FM radio broadcast station took to the airwaves across the breadth of the US and divergent areas such as: the traffic medians of Mexico City and Haitian Slums. From the beginning, Free Radio stations operated by communities of color received a rather disproportionate degree of enforcement action by the FCC.

Faced with a radio rebellion, the FCC and National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) responded with the expected heavy hand of repression – the NAB is considered to be the most powerful lobbying group in DC since their member control any given politician's face time in the media. For the FCC, this consisted of raiding stations and threatening the levying of high fines against anyone who had the temerity to believe that the airwaves belonged to the people. A laughably histrionic PR campaign was waged against the Free Radio Movement by the NAB – one claim being that the proliferation of unlicensed stations would literally cause airplanes to fall from the sky. To many, it seemed possible the NAB might consider the hiring of private mercenaries to deal with the situation if their PR efforts and the enlisting of local radio stations in an overall campaign against Free Radio Stations failed to stem the tide. During the course of their convention in 1998 where they were met with organized demonstrations for Free Speech on the airwaves, an NAB daily trade publication stated that they had originally considered one of the leaders of the Free Radio Movement to be just a minor annoyance, but in light of the protests on their doorstep in Las Vegas, he was now considered to be a major threat.

In fact, this sort of kick-down-the-doors, SWAT team mentality lead to the early retirement of the head of the San Francisco FCC field office during the mid 90's. He was perceived by his superiors at the FCC as being too much of a loose cannon. (Although, this did not prevent an actual multi-jurisdictional SWAT raid on the home of a Tampa Radio broadcaster, Doug Brewer.) Despite immense efforts and resources, both the FCC and NAB lost the PR battle, as far as the court of public opinion was concerned.

Most likely, cooler heads prevailed at the FCC who told the NAB to back off and allow them to handle the situation in a time tested manner – co-option. Given the trend, it was likely a full-fledged Federal Court victory would be given to the Free Radio Movement – almost achieved in the case against Free Radio Berkeley. A Waterloo moment the FCC sought to avoid at all costs.

Combining co-option with an another trusty tool, divide and conquer, the FCC announced that it would establish a Low Power FM (LPFM) broadcast service, but anyone who had been engaged in unsanctioned acts of broadcasting would not be eligible for a possible future LPFM license. In other words, go off the air now if you ever have any hope obtaining a license at some indeterminate point in the future. To be expected, quite a number of Free Radio folks responded with a resounding “F” you. Other stations went dark.

In typical fashion, the FCC created a rather difficult and costly (at least in terms of what it cost to set up a Free Radio Station - $1000 to $2000) LPFM license application process in 1999. Of course, the NAB got its Congress Critters (the lobbying probably carried out by the FCC Chairman's former law firm) to immediately to pass a bill ironically titled the The Broadcast Preservation Act of 1999. This bill severely curtailed the number of LPFM stations by imposing upon them harsher technical standards than were applied to non-LPFM stations – thus preventing any stations from being established in urban areas of any size.

Some former broadcasters (labeled pirate by both the FCC and NAB) decided to unfurl the Jolly Roger, sheath the broadswords and spike the cannons, seeking a less confrontational approach by organizing the Prometheus Radio Project to assist communities with the LPFM application process and station building. Unfortunately, they engaged in more than a modicum of historical revisionism in attempt to cast off their past and make themselves more appealing to funding organizations such as the Ford Foundation, who are more than skittish about “illegitimate activities”. These same foundations fund a number of so-called progressive voices, considered by a number of folks to be information gatekeepers.

According to the Prometheus narrative, the entire LPFM service, limited as it was, came about as a result of a reasonable and fair-minded FCC chairman William Kennard seeing the need for such a service. Given his corporate background, pigs were much more likely to fly. Such a narrative was a disservice and an affront to the many people, communities and their supporters and legal groups such as the National Lawyers Guild who had put so much on the line in the cause of Free Speech.

Unprepared to the handle the large number of LPFM applications, it took the FCC an inordinately long time to grant LPFM construction permits and licenses to community organizations who had managed to deal with the entire process. Several large national religious organizations contributed more than their fair share to the confusion by filing hundreds of what amounted to be bogus applications on behalf of local religious groups who had no idea what LPFM was or that someone else had filed in their name.

During this period much of the energy of the Free Radio Movement dissipated due to a number of factors. Engaging in media reform was more appealing and less risky than electronic civil disobedience. The established, progressive left never accepted the Free Radio Movement - concerned about image and offending Democrat Party associated foundations, the source of much of their funding. Being a rather diverse amalgam of anarchists, DIY punks, community activists, libertarians, 60's radicals and contrarians with very little in the way of funding and resources, the Free Radio Movement was not able to create a more evolved, comprehensive and unified strategy, moving beyond the more immediate aspects of putting FM broadcast stations on the air.

Despite these shortcomings, the Free Radio Movement made a number of significant contributions to the media landscape. One being the idea of sharing media content, specifically MP3 audio, via the internet several years prior to Napster and podcasting becoming household words. Instead of audio cassettes being mailed between radio stations, an audio content sharing website,, was established to facilitate the sharing of radio programs. is still going strong today with thousands of audio programs available for download. This ultimately led to the concept of the open publishing model being applied to all types of media – the basis for the Independent Media Centers. In collaboration with Wired magazine, some the first webcasts of live radio were made from the studios of Free Radio Berkeley. Finally, the first time a webcast had been made of a political protest occurred when live audio from a demonstration outside the Berkeley studios of KPFA in 1999 was relayed by a small FM transmitter supplied by Free Radio Berkeley to a nearby receiver feeding the audio to a computer audio server.

An embryonic LPFM service presented a number of challenges to the Free Radio Movement. Many folks felt this was a small victory but more concessions from the FCC should be demanded. During the commentary phase prior to the official launch of the LPFM broadcast service, the FCC received thousands of letters and such. From the point of view of the Free Radio Movement, if such a service was going to established, it would have to be totally non-commercial, locally owned and controlled and structured in a manner to be as financially and technically feasible as possible for grassroots organizations. Further, with the advent of digital TV (an 80 billion dollar give away of spectrum) looming on the horizon, a demand was made for the ultimate expansion of non-commercial FM broadcasting into VHF TV channels 5 and 6 (to be abandoned when the digital transition to UHF channels took place), thereby adding 60 new FM channels to the broadcast spectrum. Needless to say, this has yet to implemented – the phrase “a snowball's chance in hell” is appropriate.

A general consensus along with a good deal of grumbling emerged from the Free Radio Movement along the lines of - we will accept LPFM, but the war is not over. At that point, two divergent currents emerged. One being the folks who decided they would keep putting stations on the air no matter what and the other represented by the Prometheus Radio Project. A third wave consisted of people who held a more ecumenical position of maintaining the need for a continuing campaign of electronic civil disobedience while at the same time providing whatever assistance they could to communities who wished to engage in the LPFM process. If a few deserving communities could establish a voice with an LPFM station, then that was all for the greater good of media democracy and Free Speech.

The Prometheus Radio Project did their best to create a firewall between itself and the notion of electronic civil disobedience. Inherently, this is the genesis of the title of this article – the LPFM deception. It was a deception on a number of levels. By distancing themselves from civil disobedience the Prometheus Project deceived itself into thinking it could prevail on the policy level with out the threat of street heat. Instead it found itself in a protracted, decade long legislative struggle to expand the LPFM service. By what amounted to a legislative miracle, they did prevail with the passage of the Community Radio Act of 2010. As a result, the FCC will open the window for new LPFM applications in the Fall of 2013. In addition, in coalition with a number of other organizations, they were able to beat back an effort by the FCC for further media deregulation. Ultimately, their strategy may have worked, but at what cost?

By focusing primarily on the legislative level and achieving legitimacy, another deception has taken place - that being to limit the imaginative possibilities grassroots broadcasting offers. Imagine this, non-union workers are demonstrating outside of a Wall Mart armed with the usual picket signs, leaflet and megaphones. But wait, there are also large signs being held up at key points in the parking lot and entry points on nearby roads. These signs say “Tune to 87.9”. A transmitter has been set up nearby in a van or car to broadcast a continuously looping message at the frequency of 87.9 MHz – an electronic leaflet. Workers who are supportive can listen to the broadcast in the safety of their cars without risking their jobs by being seen by management taking a leaflet directly from the folks on the picket line. Drivers going by can tune to the station to hear about what is happening, hard to hand a physical leaflet to car going by at 35 MPH. Drive by Radio. This is one of many possibilities. Temporary stations pop up at community gatherings such as flea markets, concerts and farmers' markets. All schools, senior and community centers and libraries should have their own stations as well, an impossibility under the current regime imposed by the FCC.

Another not so obvious self-imposed deception concerns the exact nature of a broadcast license. At the most fundamental level, a license is a business law contract between an individual acting on his own behalf or on the behalf of an organization and the government agency issuing the license. It does not matter whether it is a fishing license, driver’s license or broadcasting license. Signing the license form is an implicit abandonment of normally protected rights and presumption of innocence. Possession of a broadcast license allows the FCC to regulate speech (the 7 dirty words), issue fines without any proof other than their say so and enter the station premises at any time without notice or search warrant. Further, fines and penalties cannot be adjudicated at a local Federal District Court. They must first be appealed through a serpentine process within the FCC itself prior to seeking any other legal remedy. After exhausting all administrative remedies within the FCC, the appeal process is then handed off to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington, DC – arguably one of the most conservative and reactionary court districts in the US. Needless to say, the FCC appeal process is an exhaustive and expensive journey. Individuals operating a Free Radio station without sanction or license retain their basic rights of Free Speech, presumption of innocence and protection from unlawful search and seizure – at least in theory with what is left of the Bill of Rights.

At another level, it is deceptive thinking to assume that what the FCC has offered us is the best that can be achieved. Yes, an additional 800 LPFM stations is a good thing, depending who ends up with licenses. The major issue of who owns the airwaves has yet to be resolved in any meaningful way, however. Leading to the more general question of who is going to control and own the Commons – the people or the corporations? The current chairman of the FCC is putting forth a proposal that would allow one corporation to own 8 radio stations, 2 TV stations, one newspaper and internet access in any given market area. By taking the strategy of electronic civil disobedience off of the table, the FCC, in relative peace, can continue to being a captive protector of the corporations it is supposed to regulate.

One could take the cynical position of radio broadcasting does not matter, being a legacy technology in this new era of internet information and such. But the reality is that if they come for my radio in the morning, they will come for your internet in the afternoon. Free Speech is anathema to the state and the corporations it serves. Remember, it was just recently proposed to give the White House an internet kill switch. Events taking place in the Middle East over the last few years demonstrate what happens when governments feel threatened by popular movements and revolt – they shut down the entire communications network, forcing a return to the use of legacy technologies such as fax, packet radio, dial-up ISPs, etc. Imagine the consequences if folks in those countries had had portable FM transmitters with laptop studios ready to go. All the various forms of communications do not exist in isolation from one another. They must be combined together to form a synergistic whole, as the Independent Media Centers have demonstrated, to achieve their full potential as a tools for personal and collective liberation.

While the potential addition of 800 or so new LPFM stations is to be welcomed, it remains to seen as to whether radical and grassroots communities will find a voice by this means. It is a matter that will require a high degree of organizing and the establishing of coalitions on an unprecedented level. Finally, one must avoid self-deception by not seeing LPFM as a final victory, but rather one battle of a continuing war for not only the broadcast airwaves but the entire Commons.

5. What are the T-Party Billionaires afraid of?
The great mystery of American politics, a mystery which no one in the world can fathom, not even most Americans, is why so much money, hot air and spittle is being spent on literally paralyzing the American political system and making it impossible, not just to negotiate solutions, but to even have an intelligent conversation about solving the problems facing everyone, everywhere today. For that is what the Tea Party is really about: making first thought, then negotiation, and finally action impossible.
What is all this sound and fury covering up?
In my opinion it has much to do with where contemporary globalization is leading, the forces that it is setting in motion, which for historically minded Americans could elicit a bit ofdèjá vu.
It seems to me that the globalization of today is in many ways similar on a world scale to the explosion of growth, power and sophistication of the US economy in the period after the Civil War, commonly called “The Gilded Age“. This was the period of the “robber barons” and viewed nostalgically by many of the American right as a paradise of anarcho-capitalism. This was a period of immense growth and innovation, but also one of enormous inequality, suffering and exploitation and financial crisis, all of it interpenetrated by an ubiquitous political corruption as the enormous new wealth so recently created set about purchasing and deforming to its benefit the institutions of American government: federal, state and local.
The excesses of the Gilded Age gave birth to a mass reform movement in the United States called, “Progressivism“. This movement, in a titanic struggle, bridging decades, among other things brought into effect: the regulation of interstate commerce, the breaking up of the monopolies known as “trusts“, laws regulating the purity of food and drugs, the rise of labor unions, laws eliminating child labor and in 1913, even progressive income tax, something which still causes intense indignation on the American ultra-right.
I would maintain that today the “Gilded Age” is happening on a global scale. The same viral growth and innovation; the same inequality, suffering and exploitation and financial crisis and similar corruption as rootless, multinational corporations evade much needed tax money and corrupt the political systems where they find themselves, world wide. And today we can add the more recent concerns for climate change and renewable energy.
Action and reaction, just as in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the grotesque abuses of the system brought forth a muscular reform movement to tame the beasts of the Gilded Age, today the feeling is growing all over the world that this new Gilded Age must also be brought under some sort of rational control and regulation. As the center of the world economic system, any general reform and regulation of globalization logically must begin in the United States of America.
That is what the one-percent are afraid of and that is why they fund and promote the paralysis of the American political system.
Just to show you the symmetry between the urge to reform one hundred years ago and to reform today, I’d ask you to take the trouble to read two texts, they are like the tiny samples taken to analyze DNA.
I’m sure you have heard about the terrible fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh a few days ago,which took the lives of over a hundred workers trapped in the blaze, (the color photo at the top of the page shows the aftermath) so the first text I’d like you to read, is about that tragedy:
(…) On the third floor, where firefighters later recovered 69 bodies, Ms. Pakhi was stitching sweater jackets for C&A, a European chain. On the fifth floor, workers were making Faded Glory shorts for Walmart. Ten bodies were recovered there. On the sixth floor, a man named Hashinur Rahman put down his work making True Desire lingerie for Sears and eventually helped save scores of others. Inside one factory office, labor activists found order forms and drawings for a licensee of the United States Marine Corps that makes commercial apparel with the Marines’ logo. In all, 112 workers were killed in a blaze last month that has exposed a glaring disconnect among global clothing brands, the monitoring system used to protect workers and the factories actually filling the orders. After the fire, Walmart, Sears and other retailers made the same startling admission: They say they did not know that Tazreen Fashions was making their clothing.(…) David Hasanat, the chairman of the Viyellatex Group, one of the country’s most highly regarded garment manufacturers, pointed out that global apparel retailers often depend on hundreds of factories to fill orders. Given the scale of work, retailers frequently place orders through suppliers and other middlemen who, in turn, steer work to factories that deliver low costs — a practice he said is hardly unknown to Western retailers and clothing brands. The order for Walmart’s Faded Glory shorts, documents show, was subcontracted from Simco Bangladesh Ltd., a local garment maker. “It is an open secret to allow factories to do that,” Mr. Hasanat said. “End of the day, for them it is the price that matters.” New York Times
A little over a hundred years ago something almost identical happened in the USA. You probably know about it, but read the following text to refresh your memory and to compare it with the Bangladesh tragedy:
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the second deadliest disaster in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three; of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was Providenza Panno at 43, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese. Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks – many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers. (emphasis mine)Wikipedia
The only real difference between the two fires is that today the money is not bringing poor immigrant women to America to do the sewing, they are sending the sewing out to poor women in their home countries.
The text I put into bold type, the reforms the Triangle fire produced, is the key, the symbol, to explain the energy and funds behind the Tea Party’s mostly successful struggle against rational thought in the USA today.
It is easy to imagine that we will be seeing more and more incidents like these sweatshop fires, some of them may cause thousands of deaths, pollute the atmosphere or spread disease in much the same way that the financial crisis that began in the USA has spread around the world. Today, unless the world cooperates to regulate, what goes around, comes around.
Now it happens that there is only one state in the whole world that is still, for the moment at least, potentially powerful enough to be able to bring this situation under some sort of control at home and abroad, and this state is in theory a democracy that is elected by its citizens to serve them.
That state is, of course, the United States of America.
Now, for the state apparatus of the United States of America to bring the situation under control in America and to a great extent around the world, all the branches of the state, executive, legislative and judiciary would have to be in nearly total alignment, as they were during World War Two.
Keeping that from happening, paralyzing the political system, with racism and paranoia so that unity is entirely unthinkable except around “supporting our troops” to defend the “homeland” against the threat of “terrorism” is what the Tea Party movement and every move of Fox and Kochs is about.
So that is what it is really all about: it is about not legislating and not getting things done… to paralyze the government of the United States of America at a critical time in its history and the history of the world at large. To prevent the system from flushing itself out and regenerating itself. To cut the wires of the burglar alarms so they can sack the house, the house of everyone in the world, in peace. Their peace.
Cross posted from:

6. War brewing on the latest front line against terrorism in Mali
BAMAKO, Mali — The next war against terrorism is taking shape in this West African country, as African nations backed by the United States and France are readying a force to recapture Mali’s north from extremists linked to al-Qaeda and prevent another haven for jihadists from taking root on the continent.
But whether a military intervention can defuse such a complex crisis remains in doubt. Mali’s transitional government, installed after a military coup earlier this year, is weak and lacks legitimacy. Its poorly equipped army is in disarray.
African and Western powers are already in disagreement over the timing and goals of a military strike. Also unclear is whether regional African forces are strong enough to defeat well-armed militants in desert terrain the size of Texas without help on the ground from Western armies.
Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said this week that “the military concept proposes an Africa-led effort, but several key questions must be answered to ensure that this effort is also well-planned and well-resourced.”
Nevertheless, after months of hesitation, the momentum for a military intervention has surged in the region and among Western powers, as the radical Islamists and al-Qaeda militants have deepened their grip over the north.
Analysts and U.N. officials say that any military strike is still months away, but the United States and France are playing an active diplomatic role in it and encouraging African nations to take the lead — a model used most recently in Somalia, where Islamist radicals also seized much of the country. Last month, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) approved a 3,300-member force for northern Mali.
Thousands of Malians have fled to this capital to escape the Islamists’ brutal rule, and many say military action is the only way to liberate the north. “It’s the only solution,” said Aziz Maiga, a 27-year-old rapper who recently left the north. “Negotiating with the Islamists will not work.”
The American role has intensified since U.S. officials implicated al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — the terrorism network’s North and West Africa affiliate known as AQIM — in the September assault on a U.S. mission in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. AQIM is one of the three major groups that now control northern Mali.
In a telephone interview, a senior Islamist leader denounced the United States, declaring that its people are “against Islam” and that superstorm Sandy was “a punishment from God.”
“If the Western countries send troops, that will be fine. We are prepared for war,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha, the military leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, known as MUJWA, which is an offshoot of AQIM. “If they don’t come here, one day we will attack them. If we cannot do this in our time, our sons and the next generation will attack the West.”
Coalitions and factions
This landlocked former French colony, much of it in the Sahara Desert, is one of the world’s poorest countries despite an abundance of natural resources, including gold and uranium.
Long before the seizure of northern Mali, AQIM kidnapped Westerners and operated a drug pipeline to Europe and other criminal enterprises to finance its operations.
In March, the group and other radical Islamists joined forces with secular Tuareg separatists, angered by decades of political marginalization and neglect by the central government. They overran the north, taking advantage of a power vacuum that followed the military coup in Mali’s capital, Bamako, in March
The Islamists then seized control from the Tuareg rebels. They imposed Islamist sharia law on a moderate Muslim population and began enforcing it with public beatings, amputations, stonings and prison sentences.
Initially, there were two main groups of extremists — AQIM and Ansar Dine, or “defenders of the faith,” which is led mostly by Malian hard-liners and linked to AQIM. But by September, MUJWA — which splintered from AQIM late last year — seized significant territory. Despite their differences, all three groups remain loosely linked. They have been joined by some fighters from Boko Haram, an Islamist force in Nigeria, according to the United Nations, Malian and regional African military officials.
French President Francois Hollande recently cited intelligence that some French Muslims had joined the jihadists and could perpetrate terrorist acts upon their return to France. Mali’s neighbors are also worried about radical Islamists spilling across their borders.
“They have killed so many of our soldiers, our sons,” said Sadou Diallo, the former mayor of Gao who fled to Bamako. “They have abused our sisters. They have destroyed 50 years of development in the north.”

7. Turnout unusually high among Democratic officials for committeman vote that saw Ramos beat former party chairman Siegel
Elected officials tend to have finely calibrated Geiger counters to detect and avoid any hint of political radiation, so it’s not surprising they were among the biggest supporters of Palm Beach County Democratic State Committeeman John Ramos’ reelection bid last week against former county chairman and end-times controversialist Mark Alan Siegel.
The normally low-profile race for committeeman drew a remarkable 88.5 percent turnout at Thursday’s Democratic Executive Committee meeting, with 254 of 287 eligible voters casting ballots. By comparison, only 227 people voted earlier in the evening for the more visible position of county chair, which Terrie Rizzo won.
Siegel was the face of the county party for nearly four years. But Siegel, who is Jewish, was pressed to resign in September after he told a conservative website during the Democratic National Convention that pro-Israel fundamentalist Christians “just want us to be there so we can all be slaughtered and converted and bring on the second coming of Jesus Christ.”
Siegel apologized for the remarks the next day. He recently told the Politics column that his September words were “talking about the end of days, not next week. … I did not say, would not say, didn’t believe then, don’t believe now that any Christians want to slaughter any Jews.”
In the committeeman race, Ramos got 128 votes to 87 for Siegel and 39 for Irving Rosenthal. While Ramos beat Siegel by a comfortable margin, he barely avoided a runoff. Party rules require a majority for election. So Ramos needed exactly the 128 he got to win outright.
Local elected Democrats voting in person or by proxy were a key for Ramos. All five Democratic county commissioners — Shelley Vana, Mary Lou Berger, Paulette Burdick, Priscilla Taylor and Jess Santamaria — backed Ramos. So did Tax Collector Anne Gannon, Public Defender Carey Haughwout, state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, state Reps. Lori Berman, Kevin Rader, Bobby Powell and Irving Slosberg and Port of Palm Beach Commissioners George Mastics, Wayne Richards and Jean Enright.
Elected Dems who supported Siegel included U.S. Rep.-elect Lois Frankel, Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock, and Port Commissioner Blair Ciklin.
U.S. Rep.-elect Patrick Murphy voted by proxy for Rosenthal.

8. BBC -
Fukushima fish still contaminated from nuclear accident
Levels of radioactive contamination in fish caught off the east coast of Japan remain raised, official data shows.
It is a sign that the Dai-ichi power plant continues to be a source of pollution more than a year after the nuclear accident.
About 40% of fish caught close to Fukushima itself are regarded as unfit for humans under Japanese regulations.
The respected US marine chemist Ken Buesseler has reviewed the data in this week's Science journal.
He says there are probably two sources of lingering contamination.
"There is the on-going leakage into the ocean of polluted ground water from under Fukushima, and there is the contamination that's already in the sediments just offshore," he told BBC News.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote
With these results it's hard to predict for how long some fisheries might have to be closed”
Prof Ken Buesseler WHOI
"It all points to this issue being long-term and one that will need monitoring for decades into the future."
Prof Buesseler is affiliated to the US Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
His evaluation covers a year's worth of data gathered by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
Its monthly records detail the levels of radioactive caesium found in fish and other seafood products from shortly after the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami - the double disaster that triggered the Fukushima crisis.
The caesium-134 and 137 isotopes can be traced directly to releases from the crippled power station.
MAFF uses the information to decide whether certain fisheries along five east-coast prefectures, including Fukushima, should be opened or closed (it is not a measure of contamination in actual market fish).
 The data is used to decide when fisheries should be opened or closed
The caesium does not normally stay in the tissues of saltwater fish for very long; a few percent per day on average should flow back into the ocean water. So, the fact that these animals continue to display elevated contamination strongly suggests the pollution source has not yet been completely shut off.
He notes that although caesium levels in any fish type and on any day can be highly variable, it is the bottom-dwelling species off Fukushima that consistently show the highest caesium counts.
For the WHOI researcher, this points to the seafloor being a major reservoir for the caesium pollution.
"It looks to me like the bottom fish, the fish that are eating, you know, crabs and shellfish, the kinds of things that are particle feeders - they seem to be increasing their accumulation of the caesium isotopes because of their habitat on the seafloor," he explained.
Prof Buesseler stresses however that the vast majority of fish caught off the northeast coast of Japan are fit for human consumption.
And while the 40% figure for unsafe catch in the Fukushima prefecture may sound alarming, the bald number is slightly misleading.
Last April, the Japanese authorities tried to instil greater market confidence by lowering the maximum permitted concentration of radioactivity in fish and fish products from 500 becquerels per kilogram of wet weight to 100 Bq/kg wet.
This tightening of the threshold immediately re-classified fish previously deemed fit as unfit, even though their actual contamination count had not changed.
It is also worth comparing the Japanese limit with international standards. In the US, for example, the threshold is set at 1,200 Bq/kg wet - significantly more lenient than even the pre-April Japanese requirement.
And Prof Buesseler makes the point that some naturally occurring radionuclides, such as potassium-40, appear in fish at similar or even higher levels than the radioactive caesium.
Nonetheless, the contamination question is a pertinent one in the Asian nation simply because its people consume far more fish per head than in most other countries.
"At one level, there shouldn't be any surprises here but on another, people need to come to grips with the fact that for some species and for some areas this is going to be a long-term issue; and with these results it's hard to predict for how long some fisheries might have to be closed," said the WHOI scientist.
Prof Buesseler, with Japanese colleagues, is organising a scientific symposium in Tokyo on 12/13 November to present the latest thinking on Fukushima and its impacts on the ocean. The information will then be shared with the public in a free colloquium on 14 November

9.Almost half of Fukushima children now have thyroid disorders from radiation poisoning, officials blame 'too much seafood'

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NaturalNews) Not much information comes out of Japan about Fukushima anymore, and the American MSM seems to have forgotten what watered down reporting they had done earlier. But the human suffering has begun in Japan, and even the Japanese government is trying to pretend it's not happening.

The curtain is pulled over the total impact of this disaster to protect the nuclear power industry. The government and media blackout has become known as "plume gate" for the radioactive plume that was released from the Fukushima mishap. (

The Fukushima reactors were designed by General Electric, and 23 reactors of the USA's 104 operating reactors are very similar to Fukushima's. Lately, awareness of nuclear power's pitfalls is growing and casting a shadow on nuclear power's illegitimate

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The suffering has already begun
Thousands of Japanese children from Fukushima and the nearby areas have been diagnosed with cysts and nodules on their thyroid glands. So far, 41.1 percent of 57,000 tested have shown these early warnings of potential thyroid cancer.

Even worse, four out of five Fukushima evacuees have been observed with developing thyroid abnormalities. It's not just iodide isotopes with their relatively short radioactive half-lives that can penetrate thyroid glands, cesium-37 isotopes with longer half-lives can too. Here's the shocking truth about radioactive half-life. (

However, the official medical line from the head of this research is that maybe they've eaten too much seafood or taken too much iodine. It's also an official decree that the testing be stopped before it begins in other areas of Japan.

Even in Tokyo, doctors are reporting dramatically increased incidents of incurable diarrhea, non-stop nose bleeds, and flu-like symptoms. Some parents are becoming activists in Japan to get at the truth and get their children treated properly. Children are more easily affected by radiation poisoning.

A Japanese pediatrician even put out a YouTube video asking for outside help since the Japanese government is not helping as they should. (

Dr. Christopher Busby, visiting professor at the University of Ulster's School of Biomedical Sciences and Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk put out this video about Fukushima. (

He's been attacked. But as a saying goes: "You know you're getting close to the target when you're getting flack." Here's Busby's counter attack:

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10. VOTING BLAME GAME - by Sen. Dan Gelber
It is the theatre of the absurd to watch the Republicans in the legislature and the Governor try to affix blame for Florida’s election fiasco on someone other than themselves. Today they went after election supervisors who they claim didn’t provide enough capacity to process voters. Let’s be clear, while election supervisors might have done more to accommodate voters, they were without authority to prevent the voter suppression that was purposefully and willfully committed by the Republican Legislature and Governor Scott. The facts and run up to the 2012 election prove that point convincingly…

Prior to the 2008 election, the Republican legislature tried to limit early voting to 96 hours over a 14 day period, and to only city halls and libraries. Democrats hollered that the limitations on hours each day (8) and locations would cause long lines but the Republicans defeated all amendments trying to enlarge the time and places for early voting.

The result:  lines were so long during the 2008 election that in the middle of early voting Governor Crist issued an executive order expanding early voting to 12 hours each day (for a total of 120 hours). If you remember, even with Crist’s expansion there were still long lines, some around the block in many communities.

The Legislature knew exactly who the early voters were because it had commissioned a study after the election. . The Legislature’s study showed that 52% of the early voters in 2008 were Democrats and only 30% were Republicans.

So armed with the knowledge that more Democrats voted early, and knowing full well that 120 hours was insufficient, the Republican Legislature and the Governor again limited early voting in advance of the 2012 election, this time to 48-96 hours over 8 days. They limited locations to only city halls and libraries and forbid early voting the last Sunday before the election (a popular voting day for African American churches). Again Democrats hollered that the limitations would cause long lines, but Republicans defeated amendments to the election bill that would have expanded hours and days and allowed more locations for early voting.

The sponsors of the bill claimed it was necessary because of “fraud” in early voting. Of course there is no evidence of even insignificant fraud in early voting and the claim was an outright lie. Yes, a lie.

The legislature also put on the ballot 11 constitutional amendments, many of which had multiple parts. Rather than use short descriptions of the amendments, the legislature made the summaries as long as possible (some up to 600 words) ensuring that any conscientious voter would have to spend inordinate time to actually vote.

So, the resulting voting delays were not simply predictable, they were intended by a legislature and governor who had all the facts necessary to know precisely what there law would do. There is no blaming anyone else. This was done for the singular purpose of making it harder to vote for people who the Republican legislature believed tended to vote for Democrats. Case closed.

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